Male, female, or something else?
By Craig Helmstetter, Managing Partner
Male, female, or something else?
Caitlyn Jenner. Bathroom bans and related boycotts. Amazon Prime’s Golden Globe winning Transparent series. President Trump’s (now overturned) order excluding transgender individuals from the military. It is safe to say that questioning the traditional male-female gender binary is now part of our national dialogue.
But some basic questions remain unanswered. Counting the number of people who identify as gender nonconforming, transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, etc. is among the most basic. It is a question that researchers have a hard time answering, both due to our own biases and inertia, and likely due to the reluctance of some to identify themselves in ways that may be uncomfortable or even dangerous.
Our recent Ground Level Survey with Minnesota Public Radio News was not an attempt to definitively answer this question, but it does shed at least one more speck of light on what remains a dimly understood issue. When assembling the demographic questions that we would ask of the survey’s respondents, we decided to re-frame the typical question:
“Are you male or female?”
“Do you consider yourself to be male, female, or something else?”
Extrapolated number of adult Minnesotans who would answer “something else” or refuse to answer a question about gender, based on a recent statewide survey
An estimated 26,000 - 41,000 Minnesotans do not consider their gender male or female.
Source: MPR News | APM Research Lab 2017 Ground Level Survey of Minnesotans.
There are other ways of asking questions about gender identity that may elicit more precise answers, but even this approach yielded some interesting results. Overall, 0.6 percent of respondents chose “something else.” When extrapolated to the state’s population, this represents just over 26,000 adult Minnesotans. Interestingly, this is very close to the Williams Institute’s estimate of 24,250 transgender Minnesotans.
I suspect that our results may underestimate Minnesota’s gender diversity. For example, some transgender individuals may have responded to our question with the gender with which they now identify rather than the “something else” category.
National estimates suggest gender diversity may be more prevalent at younger ages, and indeed a recent study estimated that around 3 percent of Minnesota’s 9th and 11th graders are either transgender or gender nonconforming. Still, in my mind, our state-level results lend some credence to national estimates of the transgender population, which range from 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent.
Other researchers and many of those working in public health are among those calling for more and better measurement of the nation’s gender diversity. This is important for a variety of reasons. Like other relatively small and difficult-to-estimate populations—those experiencing homelessness, some immigrant populations, the rare true geniuses that walk amongst us—getting some idea of the population size is but one step in helping to understand their unique needs and contributions.
Thanks to Laura Schauben of Wilder Research, and APM colleagues Eric McKinley, Jeff Hnilicka, Kassira Absar, and Andi Egbert for feedback on early versions of this article.